Baked Macaroni and Cheese

This baked macaroni and cheese recipe is the best and easy to make. The bread crumbs on top and creamy comfort food underneath are proof that homemade tastes infinitely better than that store-bought stuff in the blue box. Here’s how to make it.

A cast iron skillet filled with baked macaroni and cheese

With this baked macaroni and cheese that’s creamy and homemade and honest-to-goodness soul food, there’s no reason to eat the stuff in the blue box from Kraft. Not when the real deal is so easy to make from scratch. You’re going to want to use a Cheddar cheese with some character. You know, the sorta expensive, hauntingly sharp Cheddar from someplace where they know what they’re doing, like England or Vermont or Wisconsin. And you’re not going to want to forget those satiatingly buttery bread crumbs sprinkled on top. David Leite

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • Quick Glance
  • (19)
  • 25 M
  • 1 H
  • Serves 4 to 6
4.9/5 - 19 reviews
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Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Salt a large pot of water generously, so it tastes like the sea. Bring the water to a boil and then add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and whisk until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes.

Still whisking vigorously, slowly pour in the milk. If the sauce gets lumpy, don’t worry; just keep whisking until it becomes smooth again. Lower the heat and simmer (yes, still whisking frequently!) until creamy and smooth, 7 to 8 minutes.

Add 1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, the pepper, and the mustard and/or nutmeg, if using. Take the pan off the heat and add 2 1/2 cups Cheddar and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Whisk until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Taste and add more seasonings, if you like.

Drain the macaroni and return it to the pot. Dump the sauce on top of the macaroni and toss thoroughly to coat. Turn out the macaroni mixture into a large cast-iron skillet, a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, or another generously sized casserole dish. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining Cheddar and Parmesan.

One last thing. Melt the remaining butter in a small skillet. (Use 2 tablespoons for uber-buttery bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon for swimsuit-season bread crumbs.) Drizzle the butter over the bread crumbs in a bowl and toss to coat. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the macaroni.

Bake until the crumbs are browned and the macaroni is warmed through, 20 minutes if you’re in a hurry or, if you’re in no rush and prefer a creamier sauce, up to an hour or so. You will need to cover the dish after 15 minutes or so to prevent the crumbs from browning too much. 

Let the macaroni and cheese rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes before scooping it out in heaping portions. Originally published May 10, 2011. 

Print RecipeBuy the Simple Comforts cookbook

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    Tuxedo and T-Shirt Variations

    • While the classic is always welcome, try mixing things up on occasion…

    • Smoky Green Chile Version
    • Tux variation

      Add a 4-ounce can diced mild green chiles, drained, to the macaroni mixture before turning it into the baking dish. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika to the buttered crumbs.

    • “Tuna Melt” Version
    • T-shirt variation

      Substitute 1 cup grated Havarti or Fontina cheese for 1 cup of the Cheddar when you make the sauce (you’ll still need a total of 3 cups cheese plus the 1/2 cup Parmesan or pecorino). Add two 5-ounce cans tuna, drained, and 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest to the macaroni before turning it into the baking dish.

    Recipe Testers Reviews

    This is, hands down, one of the best baked macaroni and cheese recipes I’ve ever made. The Parmesan cheese added a great smoky flavor and I’ll never make mac and cheese without it now. This is going into a weekly rotation in our lunch and dinner schedule. To make this into a one-pot meal, instead of just a side dish, I added some honeyed ham before baking—it turned out awesome!

    This baked macaroni and cheese recipe was fantastic. It’s so much better than the boxed mac and cheese and not that much more labor-intensive. The buttered bread crumbs on top really make this dish. It’s perfect comfort food.

    This macaroni and cheese is classic, creamy, and wonderfully cheesy. I made the green chile variation and the base tasted like chile con queso. I’d probably just add more butter to the topping next time.

    I thought this baked macaroni and cheese recipe was outstanding! I’m always a little bit disappointed by most homemade mac and cheese recipes (let alone the box—I must be getting old because I don’t care at all for that anymore), but this one was great. I made the tuna melt version and thought it turned out perfectly with great flavor. And it was easy to make as well. Will definitely make again.

    I remember the first time I had homemade macaroni and cheese. My college roommate, who truth be told wasn’t much of a cook, led me into our kitchen, took out a secret recipe card from her mother, and proceeded to make the first macaroni and cheese I’d ever had that didn’t come from a box. It was a revelation, and I haven’t looked back since. Now you’re probably thinking, how is this version better than any version out there? I’ll let you in on a little secret—it’s the simplicity of the dish. I used aged extra-sharp Cheddar, grated the Parmesan cheese myself, and added only the nutmeg (along with salt and pepper) to flavor the cheese sauce. Definitely take the extra time to make the bread crumbs from stale bread, as it’s worth the effort. I haven’t been able to recreate the macaroni and cheese my roommate made, but I’ll admit, this is the closest I’ve been since.

    The smoky green chile version of this comfort food staple provides all the satisfaction of the basic home-cooked dish with a little extra pizzazz. The spices—including the optional dry mustard and nutmeg—complement the creaminess of the cheese sauce. I’d reduce the amount of smoked paprika a bit when making this version again. Personally, I found 1/2 teaspoon to be a little too strong, especially since it’s concentrated in the crumbs on the top. I also think I’d prefer the crumbs lightly toasted before they go on top of the casserole, for an extra crunch.

    I prepared this baked macaroni and cheese earlier in the day for dinner. Because it was pretty cold from the fridge, I baked it for longer than the time specified ,and it became creamy and toasty with the bread crumbs. Everyone was really happy with it. Next time, I’ll cut down on the nutmeg because it stood out too much for me. This recipe is economical, as it does make a lot. The first night I had my husband get some fried chicken to go with it, and the next night, we grilled some steaks. Tonight, we will diet.

    This baked macaroni and cheese is a wonderful addition to any cook’s repertoire. It’s easy to make with great directions. I love that the recipe use both Cheddar and Parmesan cheeses.

    Be sure to add the nutmeg and the ground mustard; I added both ingredients, and the dish was terrific.

    If you add the salt to the water when cooking the pasta, you won’t need to add any extra salt to the sauce. I used dried bread crumbs instead of fresh ones and it worked just as well. The macaroni and cheese reheats well in the microwave, in case there are any leftovers. Enjoy!

    I liked the creamy feel to this baked macaroni and cheese. We all loved it and I’ll make it again.

    We decided to add homemade bacon bits on the top, too. My husband thinks we should add anchovies next time, so we’ll definitely try that. I’m not sure if it was the cheeses I used, but I was expecting a stronger extra-sharp Cheddar taste.


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    1. I’ve made a very close version of baked mac n cheese for years, which is basically the same recipe shared to me by my Aunt way back in the 70’s. However, we use a mix of 2/3 cheddar and 1/3 smoked gouda or edam cheese. Instead of bread crumbs, we crush some cheez-it crackers up for the topping. I think baked is the ONLY way to have mac n cheese because you get that nice custard-like consistency that binds it all together, instead of a cheese soup!

    2. This was outstanding! Caveat: I did not bake it, but had it creamy straight from the pot. I used a combo of Swiss, Cheddar, and Parmesan. Cellantani pasta (spiral shape) is my favorite for mac n cheese. This was delicious and I will definitely make again. Putting in my online recipe box!

      1. Jill, love your shortcut! Desperate situations call for drastic measures, yes? And thanks SO much for letting us know how much you love this. Greatly appreciated! And we’re looking forward to hearing which recipe on the site you take a twirl through in your kitchen next…

    3. This is a good, simple, straightforward, easy macaroni and cheese recipe. It has plenty of substantial cheesy flavor and comes together quite easily. It isn’t quite as creamy as I’d hoped, but the deep cheesy flavor makes up for what it lacks in creaminess. The combination of extra-sharp Cheddar and Parmesan really deliver.

      The buttered bread crumbs on top are great and add a little bit of richness, but I’m sure the dish wouldn’t suffer without them. I just served this with a simple green salad for an easy weeknight dinner, but it would certainly be appropriate for a barbecue or potluck or any other occasion that calls for macaroni and cheese.

    4. This recipe was very straightforward and concise. It’s macaroni and cheese as we all know it from our childhood—pure comfort food. Next time, I might use white pepper instead of black for a little added zip, as well as use more bread crumbs for additional crunch on top.

      I liked the dry mustard, but I didn’t add nutmeg. The family loved it, and we’d certainly have it again. Also, this would make a very good take-to-work dish that would satisfy any and all tastes.

    5. I’m just one person so I put most of it in the freezer to eat later, It won’t last long there. I had it with my baked chicken tonight. I was most hungry for the chicken, but once I tasted the mac and cheese I almost ignored the chicken, I pigged out on mac and cheese.

    6. My go-to recipe. I’m a gooey-mac kind of guy so I dont use an entire pound of pasta. I have used about 3/4ths of cooked elbows and it’s the perfect texture for me. I bring the leftovers back by adding a bit of milk to it in a saucepan on top of the stove. Thanks for this recipe.

    7. This was the best mac & cheese recipe I’ve ever tried……..and I’ve tried a LOT. It came out so creamy and cheesy. My daughter loves mac & cheese with paprika so I used that instead of the nutmeg. Together with the buttered bread crumbs it was so delicious. This recipe is a keeper for us.

    8. This is just what I need to take to the office for cold late nights at work, thanks! So If I choose to make a big batch and freeze it in 2 person size portions, do I freeze it BEFORE baking or AFTER baking? I imagine the best course of action either way would be to thaw it then bake in convection oven (versus thawing then microwaving)? How long should I bake a portion for two that’s been thawed if a) it was not baked before freezing or b) if it WAS baked before freezing? Thank you so much , I wonder what would happen if I cooked the macaroni in a dark beer instead of water? Or if I substituted the whole milk that is Cakked fir with a micro beer we have and love in the Midwest called Left Hand Milk stout???????????its creamy, but alas, I admit it is beer…

      1. Hi Lynn, to freeze the macaroni and cheese, place in individual buttered ramekins and cover tightly with aluminum foil. When you are ready to serve them, bake, frozen and covered with foil, at 350°F, for about 1 hour, or until heated through. Uncover, top with the bread crumbs and bake until the topping is golden brown, about 20 minutes longer. Although I haven’t tried it, you could add a bit of beer to your cooking water.

    9. Mmmmmmmmmmm…………always so good, but tonight it is being tossed with some left over pulled pork too. Browned butter bread crumbs……pulled pork….and this oh-so-wonderful mac and cheese. Dinner cannot get here soon enough!!!

    10. Thanks for sharing this recipe on the Leite’s Culinaria Facebook page, Sofia Reino! I made it for dinner tonight and am quite pleased with the results. It’s similar to, but even better than, the mac & cheese I’ve been making for years! Little things like freshly grated nutmeg, the addition of Parmesan Reggiano & baking it all in my favorite cast iron skillet made a big difference.

      1. Yes, thank you, Sofia, for sharing the mac and cheese love! And Brendalyn, thank you for taking the time to let us know you like it as much as we do. Greatly appreciate it!

    11. Great recipe! I used this recipe to cook mac and cheese for Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone loved it. I added about 5 slices of Trader Joe’s Applewood Smoked Bacon and it was delicious. Also, I used 2% milk and I thought it tasted just fine. It definitely added some extra flavor. Thanks for the recipe! I will definitely cook this dish again and possibly add some grilled jalapenos. :)

    12. I love homemade mac and cheese and cannot wait to try this version. I make browned butter once a week and find that toasting bread crumbs in the browned butter really adds a nice flavour to them. My browned butter bread crumbs will be atop this mac and cheese when I try it this week. Thank you Leite’s Culinaria for all of your wonderful recipes. Reading thru this weekly post whilst enjoying my Sunday morning coffee has become a ritual.

      1. Karen, I love your brown-butter bread crumbs. Do let me know how it turns out. And thank you kindly for your lovely words. We love being a part of our readers’ routines!

    13. Awesome recipe! I substituted smoked paprika for the nutmeg and used cheddar, parmesan and fontina cheese. Went great with the BBQ dinner I made tonight. I tripled the recipe to feed around 14 people and there are tons of leftovers. People can’t wait to eat more!! Highly recommend.

      1. Christina, that’s terrific to hear! Love the swap for the smoked paprika and the notion of serving it with BBQ. I am wondering if the leftovers may work, if you want, as wee little individual canapés that are finger food, just like in this recipe? Just muffin tins slicked with butter or oil and a hot oven? Just a thought. I’ve got nothing against big ole scoopfuls of macaroni and cheese on a plate!

    14. Great recipe!!!!! Thanks so much!!!! I used to eat mac and cheese all the time when I was studying in the U.S. We never cook pasta this way in Spain, a lot of “carbonara” “bolognesa” and so on, but now I can prepare it for my kids, they will love it for sure, many thanks.

    15. After first testing this recipe a while back I have made it often, sometimes switching the types of cheeses, yet strictly following the recipe. What I love about it is that you can easily prepare it ahead of time, that it also freezes amazingly well (just add the crumbs once defrosted), and that you can easily change what type of cheeses you use. I made it again last night and used a few different types of smoked cheeses from this recipe. and even added shredded smoked meats. The final result was fantastic, with a smokey, yet not too overpoweringly so, flavor.

    16. Thanks, Maureen. You’ll have to let us know if you make it and how you like it.

      And isn’t it the best, to be reminded of a great dish you’d almost forgotten about? Not that anyone could actually forget mac and cheese, but I think it’s one of those dishes that cycle out of our repertoire at different stages of life, and then when we return to them, well… Let’s say I never truly appreciated mac and cheese as a kid; I only thought I did.

      1. Thanks, Maureen. You’ll have to let us know if you make it and how you like it.

        And isn’t it the best, to be reminded of a great dish you’d almost forgotten about? Not that anyone could actually forget mac and cheese, but I think it’s one of those dishes that cycle out of our repertoire at different stages of life, and then when we return to them, well… Let’s say I never truly appreciated mac and cheese as a kid; I only thought I did.

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